Our first port of call was the Mexican island of Cozumel, where one of the ferries took us on the short trip to the mainland. From there, we boarded a coach to Chaak Tun, a network of underwater caves and caverns. The Mayans occupied much of Mexico and these sinkholes were sacred to them. The caverns were often used as temples and for sacrificial rituals, although our guide Pablo was keen to point out that his Mayan ancestors weren’t as bloodthirsty as they’ve been portrayed. As we descended into the gloom, ghostly, pale stalactites and tree roots hung down to block our path and stalagmites rose out of the depths. We gingerly followed Pablo, alternately swimming through deep pools, ducking underneath the water and balancing along slim ledges, bats swooping and flitting around our heads. Finally emerging, exhilarated, back into the sunshine, we were suddenly starving and were treated to a sumptuous feast of chicken tacos with spicy salsas, tamales, rice and beans. We felt privileged to have followed in the footsteps of the Mayans and experienced such beauty.
In Grand Cayman we took a boat trip to explore the beautiful shoreline. We travelled first to a sandbar known locally as Stingray City, where the rays have got used to visitors feeding them squid. The perfectly clear, pale turquoise water is waist height and the huge dark grey rays swoop in to greedily grab the squid out of your fingers. It’s disconcerting but perfectly safe, apparently. Next, we made the short journey to Starfish Point. Bought by a local millionaire to prevent it being developed, it’s a secluded peninsula with bright orange starfish dotted around the pale shore and lush green shaded areas. The ideal location for a lazy morning. On the way back we stopped at a local fish shack for fish tacos, ceviche and beer, while chickens tootled around at our feet and pastel coloured iguanas skittered across window ledges.
Back on the ship we enjoyed the tranquil adults-only Serenity spa deck, with its sunbathing pods and Jacuzzis. We also enjoyed the food and felt a little like we’d eaten all day as there’s a never-ending stream of ice cream, frozen yogurt and pizza on deck, as well as Guy Fieri’s excellent burger joint, with possibly the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. The food in Chic and Posh was exceptional, with attentive service, and menus that included traditional foods from our itinerary.
Our final port of call was Montego Bay, Jamaica, where we boarded a small coach to head up into the hills about 20 miles from the ship. It was a winding, bumpy drive, and along the way we saw bananas, bamboo and plantain trees wrestling for room with trailing vines and huge palms. African tulips with their blazing orange blooms occasionally breached the lush green and the roadside was dotted with houses of every colour. We passed schoolchildren in immaculate uniforms and spotted fat chickens taking dust baths. At Croydon Plantation our guide promised a “walky, talky, touchy- feely, smelly, tasty” experience, and that’s what we got. We wandered through acres of pineapple plants, pine trees, coffee and bananas. I shrieked at enormous spiders lurking on huge webs between the palms, and we picked and crushed lemongrass between our fingers, inhaling the heady scent, crunched on fresh white coconut and gorged on juicy, fat slices of fresh pineapple. The whole day was an assault on the senses and we didn’t want it to end.
Back on board Carnival Freedom, we spent our last night in the sumptuous Sun King Steakhouse where I tasted the nicest bottle of wine I’d had in ages, and the filet mignon was perfectly cooked and meltingly tender. I was pleased to note that the meat being served was prime US beef. I may not make the best cowgirl, but I’m always very happy to support the industry in other ways.
* Becky blogs at englishmum.com
A seven-night Exotic Western Caribbean Fly Cruise on Carnival Freedom flying from London Heathrow on 26 September 2015 and sailing round-trip from Galveston, Texas to Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan; Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico costs from £1,439pp. For more information call 0845 351 0556 or visit carnival.co.uk.
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